As Nick Rizzo began his third stint as the Banks girls basketball coach last summer, he was skeptical about how the Braves would match up with the state's best teams.
But after 13 games, and 13 wins, Rizzo is becoming a believer.
“We're better than I thought we'd be, at least for now,” Rizzo said. “Some of the things I knew we needed to get better at – being able to handle physical teams, and different styles of play – we struggled with in the summer. We've seen so many different ways to attack us, and we've handled every single thing thrown at us.”
The Braves, No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 3A coaches poll, picked up their most important win of the season Friday when they defeated No. 2 Corbett 43-41 at home in a pivotal Coastal Range League game.
Banks got some payback for last season, when it lost to the Cardinals 66-48 at home in the first round of the 4A playoffs. Corbett, the 4A runner-up last year, and the Braves both dropped down to 3A this season and have state-title aspirations.
With the game tied in the last 30 seconds, Banks senior point guard Hailey Evans made a key steal to set up the winning basket, a layup by senior guard Madyson Bigsby off an assist from junior guard Jocelyn Janecek with 1.5 seconds left.
Senior post Alex Saunders scored 14 points and senior post Madison Walker had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Banks, which won despite shooting 0 for 14 from three-point range. The win gives the Braves (13-0, 2-0) the inside track on the Cardinals (11-3, 1-1), who play host to Banks on Jan. 26.
“We definitely wanted to hold serve at home,” Rizzo said. “It's going to be real tough when we go there. They're going to be gunning for us. It's not an easy place to play.”
The 41 points was a season low for the Cardinals, who entered averaging 58.9 points per game.
“We brought a ton of energy on defense,” Rizzo said. “They're a hard team to hold down. There was confidence going in, but at the same time, there was this level of concern. Watching Corbett on tape, I didn't sleep well Thursday night. They're scary. They've got shooters all over the place.”
Banks brought back three starters – Saunders, Walker and Evans -- from a team that finished 17-8 and shared the 4A Cowapa League title with Astoria.
The 5-foot-11 Saunders, who scored a career-high 32 points Dec. 13 against Valley Catholic, leads the team in scoring at 18 points per game. Walker and Evans are scoring eight points per game.
“We're balanced,” Rizzo said. “Alex leads us, but we don't really run plays for her. She gets stuff in transition. We get zoned a lot, and she does a good job attacking zones.”
Banks not only has beaten four teams in the top 10 of the OSAAtoday 3A coaches poll in No. 2 Corbett, No. 4 Amity, No. 7 Santiam Christian and co-No. 10 Westside Christian, but the Braves have defeated three ranked 4A teams in No. 3 Astoria, No. 5 Henley and No. 6 La Grande.
They won the Sisters Holiday Shootout in last week of December, turning back La Grande, Junction City and Henley on consecutive days.
“That Sisters tournament was just a slugfest,” Rizzo said. “Those were back-to-back-to-back physical games, We were just beat up. Those types of teams would have beaten us last summer. Now we're digging in and able to take on that style of play.”
Bigsby, slowed by a wrist injury and illness early in the season, moved into the starting lineup at Sisters and averaged 10 points and seven rebounds in the tournament.
“Madyson Bigsby had her coming-out party in that tournament,” Rizzo said. “It was great to see.”
Rizzo took over as coach this season for Brandon Begley, who went 164-62 in nine seasons, including a 4A runner-up finish in 2017.
Rizzo's first coached Banks for five seasons, ending in 2006, before leaving to assist at Forest Grove. He returned in 2011 and led the Braves to records of 21-5 and 22-5 – finishing third and sixth, respectively, at the 4A tournament – then stepped down and assisted under Begley.
“Now it's Round 3,” Rizzo said. “I plan on being there until I retire. I'll go out on my terms.”
No. 2 Beaverton and No. 6 Barlow had a sense of deja vu Friday as they met in a rematch of last year's 6A final.
The visiting Beavers (7-6) led 18-2 after one quarter and 30-11 at half on their way to a 45-34 victory over the Bruins (8-3). It mirrored last year's state championship game, when Beaverton led 19-2 after the first quarter built the lead as high as 22 points in a 56-39 win.
Seniors Zoe Borter and Lainey Spear scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, for the Beavers on Friday. Barlow got 11 points from senior Haidyn Sobella, who made three three-pointers, and eight points from senior Annie Koenig.
Making her mark
Central Linn senior guard Maya Rowland has passed two major milestones this season.
Rowland surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career, standing at 1,059. And she went past 200 career three-pointers, now at 211, which puts her at No. 7 on the state's all-time list.
Rowland also has 340 rebounds, 349 assists and 341 steals in her career.
The Cobras (11-1, 4-0 Valley Coast Conference) are No. 2 in the OSAAtoday 2A coaches poll.